Existing institutional arrangements for dealing with intense rainfall ‘leave urban areas poorly adapted to cope,’ according to the Government.
Six months after launching pilots to test ways of encouraging partnership-working to improve the response to storms, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is seeking views on whether a completely new body is needed. DEFRA said in a consultation paper that ‘the existing system does not encourage responsible management of stormwater by developers, householders or highway authorities’.
The department acknowledged that the 15 ‘integrated drainage’ pilots, due to report next spring, might yet show the existing status quo was adequate – if the different bodies worked together better, sharing information on flood risks, and co-ordinating investment decisions. But the paper cast doubt on whether better co-ordination could be achieved without government legislation. DEFRA highlighted, for example, how local authorities only paid a £250 charge to connect into a public sewer, so ‘have little incentive to control the volume of water making its way into the drainage system’. Similarly, developers ‘face little benefit from managing stormwater at source’.
Anecdotal evidence suggested ‘there would be benefits from having a single stormwater authority’, said DEFRA. Areas covered by an internal drainage board ‘seem to have more effective systems for managing stormwater’. But, there were mixed views on DEFRA’s analysis that the pilot data, due to be reported back next spring, might prove that better partnership-working alone would not be enough.
Tony Poole, principal drainage engineer at Bradford City Council, said that while it was early days, following the first six months of the pilot for the River Aire catchment, ‘everybody was optimistic that better co-ordination can deliver’. Co-ordination should allow ‘a holistic look at the problem, rather than concentrating on who is to blame, or on statutory functions’.
However, Professor David Balmforth, technical director of MWH, involved with the north Brent pilot, considered it likely that the final report would recommend institutional change. He believed there was ‘a strong argument for having a single body in charge, to really give this momentum’.